Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour (St. John Lateran): Mother and Head of All Churches of the City and the World

In the liturgical calendar today, we celebrate the dedication of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran. The Basilica, while commonly referred to as "St. John Lateran" is actually the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour, St. John Baptist and St. John the Evangelist at the Lateran. Given the importance of this basilica for Christendom, it seems worth paying some attention to this today.

(Image source: Wikipedia)

An aerial shot (found on Stephen Ray's blog) gives a greater sense of the architecture of the basilica and its associated buildings as well as what lays behind and around the now familiar baroque facade.

Here is another entrance you see less:

(Image source: Wikipedia)

The Catholic Encyclopedia gives some history:
This is the oldest, and ranks first among the four great "patriarchal" basilicas of Rome. The site was, in ancient times, occupied by the palace of the family of the Laterani. A member of this family, P. Sextius Lateranus, was the first plebian to attain the rank of consul. In the time of Nero, another member of the family, Plautius Lateranus, at the time consul designatus was accused of conspiracy against the emperor, and his goods were confiscated. Juvenal mentions the palace, and speaks of it as being of some magnificence, "regiæ ædes Lateranorum". Some few remains of the original buildings may still be traced in the city walls outside the Gate ofSt. John, and a large hall decorated with paintings was uncovered in the eighteenth century within the basilica itself, behind the Lancellotti Chapel.


The palace came eventually into the hands of Constantine, the first Christian emperor... Constantine must have given it to the Church in the time of Miltiades, not later than about 311, for we find a council against the Donatists meeting within its walls as early as 313. From that time onwards it was always the centre of Christian life within the city; the residence of the popes and the cathedral of Rome. The latter distinction it still holds, though it has long lost the former. Hence the proud title which may be read upon its walls, that it is "Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater, et caput".


It was dedicated to the Saviour, "Basilica Salvatoris", the dedication to St. John being of later date, and due to a Benedictine monastery of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist which adjoined the basilica and where members were charged at one period with the duty of maintaining the services in the church. This later dedication to St. John has now in popular usage altogether superseded the original one.

The building itself has undergone various bits of damage and restoration in its long history, along with additions and renovations.

Here are some photos I recently took inside the Archbasilica. As well I have included some pictures from Wikipedia to supplement my own.

(A beautiful statue of the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, stands inside the porch at the front of the basilica)

(Statues of the twelve apostles line the nave)

(The beautiful ceiling)

(The altar of the Blessed Sacrament)

(The ciborium magnum and high altar)

A few other details from the basilica:

(The Symbol of the Papal Tiara appears everywhere in Rome)

(The main bronze doors of the Lateran Basilica. They are apparently from the ancient Roman Senate originally. Image source: Wikipedia)

(The cloister of the Monastery at the Basilica. Image source: Wikipedia)

However, most impressive is the cathedra of the bishop of Rome, the apse mosaic of Christ the Saviour of the world, and the mosaics generally:

(Image source: Wikipedia)

(Image source: Link)

If you are interested in seeing more images, may I recommend this site which John Sonnen kindly sent to me today: Mater et Caput.

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